Chandler Burden heard the whispers the past couple of years.
A hard-nosed, 6-foot-4, 296-pounder with good feet seemed like a natural on the offensive line, but why wasn't he playing there? The subject came up on Internet message boards, talk radio, and even among his teammates.
Burden signed with Kentucky as an offensive lineman out of Blue Ash, Ohio, in 2008. But because the Cats were extremely thin at defensive end and Burden had the requisite size, strength and athleticism (he's been timed below 5.0 seconds in the 40-yard dash), the UK coaching staff gave Burden a trial run at that position.
Burden's impact was minimal; he recorded just nine tackles over two years. Now that Kentucky has more able bodies at defensive end, Coach Joker Phillips felt comfortable enough to move Burden back to the offensive line, where he will compete at left tackle.
A lot of defensive linemen would consider the suggestion of moving to offense an insult, a sign they weren't good enough or athletic enough to play on defense
Burden said he's OK with the switch.
"A lot of people didn't understand why I was playing there. It was just a lack of depth," he said. "That was never my position that I really came here to play."
New offensive line coach Mike Summers is looking forward to the opportunity to mold Burden into a standout left tackle.
"He's physical, he's a hard worker in the weight room, and he possesses the strength you need to be an SEC offensive lineman," Summers said. "Now we just have to close the gap in the learning curve in moving from defense to offense."
Indeed, Burden has the physical tools to replace Zipp Duncan. He already has the steps down, and he's powerful enough to stay low and use leverage to hold off opposing defensive linemen.
"That's what I'm natural at," Burden said.
Now for the hard part. Burden has a long way to go in terms of mechanics and fundamentals.
"It's no longer good enough just to be big and strong," Summers said. "Your body has to be in the right position. He has to learn the mechanical aspects of the blocks and combinations, and he has to learn the language, which is completely different from defense because all five guys are communicating at once. And then he has to understand the controlled effort it takes to be good on offense."
Burden said he'll use spring practice to get accustomed to the nuances of the position.
"It's going to take some time," Burden said. "In a way it kind of feels like freshman year again, like I'm starting all over. The hardest part is learning the plays. I'm not a natural football genius like some of the coaches. There's so many combinations that you don't even think of. But I'm learning quick. By the time fall rolls around I'll be ready to go."
Billy Joe Murphy, who started three games in 2008, is currently No. 1 at left tackle. Burden must beat him out for the job.
"We didn't bring him over to be a backup," Phillips said. "We'll see what happens. If he's not in the mix, it's not out of the question he could go back to defense."
Burden, like many collegiate players, has NFL aspirations, and both he and Phillips believe if he's going to make it at the next level, it'll be at left tackle.
"No question about it," Burden said. "I'm like everybody else. I'd love a shot to play in the NFL, and I think this is my best opportunity. I'm going to try and make the most of it."